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Petition calls for removal of Gainesville superintendent

POSTED: June 18, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A petition is circulating among Gainesville residents for the removal of Steven Ballowe as superintendent of the Gainesville school system.

"We, citizens and taxpayers of the city of Gainesville, believe that the financial deficit (currently reported to be $6.5 to $7 million) is grounds for ‘for cause’ termination of Dr. Ballowe," the petition reads.

The source of the petition couldn’t be determined Friday.

"I’ve been e-mailed a petition and actually getting it signed by a few people," said Brian Randolph, a local businessman. "... I know we’re trying to get (it) together pretty quickly so we can present it to the board."

Ballowe, who has headed the school district since July 2001, is out of the country on a preplanned vacation. His secretary, Lynn Jones, has said he would return to work Tuesday.

The public has been enraged since school officials announced in May that they expect the district will end this fiscal year on June 30 with a $6.5 million to $7 million budget shortfall.

School officials have discussed taking out a "tax anticipation note," or short-term loan, of $5 million to cover expenses until the district can begin receiving property tax revenues later in the year.

Ballowe has recommended that the school board raise the tax rate to 8.34 mills from 6.94 — a 20 percent increase — to cover the shortfall.

He also is recommending some $4.5 million in budget cuts next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The school system has until June 30 to approve next year’s budget.

City residents spoke openly in two public hearings about the deficit, saying they believed Ballowe should be fired for a lack of financial oversight.

Ballowe has said he accepts final blame for the crisis.

He has added, however, that he should have been able to trust the district’s former chief financial officer, Angela Adams, to provide timely and accurate data. He alleges that didn’t occur.

Adams, who left the system in August for a similar position with Buford city schools, has declined to comment on the situation. She couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

"My whole concern is that we were in the hole and we kept spending, and I’m trying to figure out why and who is going to be held accountable," Randolph said.

As for the legal weight such a petition carries, school board attorney Phil Hartley of Gainesville couldn’t be reached for comment.

Last July, Ballowe received a three-year contract paying him a base salary of $185,000 in 2007-08.

The key clause in the contract is the guarantee that Ballowe will receive his salary and full benefits for the remainder of the three-year agreement, unless the board fires him for cause.

"We believe that (the system’s projected deficit) gives ‘for cause,’" said Renee Gerrell, a parent at Centennial Arts Academy.

Ballowe’s annual evaluation is due by the end of the month.

His current contract runs from July 1 to June 30, 2010.



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